With the United States holding the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month (a position that lets it help set the Council’s agenda), the Council approved a “presidential statement” calling on Sudan to hand over indicted war criminals to the International Criminal Court.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, it was only a few years ago that the United States was doing all it could (short of a veto) to prevent the ICC from even opening an investigation in Darfur. It was also not long ago that the United States embarked on a global campaign to limit the jurisdiction of the ICC by signing so called “bi-lateral immunity agreements” with its allies around the world, like those in Europe, who supported the ICC. (Just to give you a sense of how strongly the United States cherished these bi-lateral immunity agreements, official American policy was to withhold aid to countries that refused to enter into these agreements.)
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, insisted that U.S. support for the council statement does not mean Washington has altered its position on the court.
But Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said there has been a noticeable shift in the U.S. approach to the court.
“This support for justice marks a further break from Washington’s previously ill-conceived and highly ideological opposition to the ICC,” he told reporters, adding that Washington’s previous approach had been an anti-ICC “jihad.”
These days, it seems that the United States is finding the ICC to be a useful tool of international relations. (And don’t miss the edition of UN Plaza in which Dicker and I discuss America’s evolving relationship with the ICC.) It is also the only hope that those responsible for unleashing genocide in Darfur will ever face justice. I, for one, warmly welcome this detente between the United States and ICC.